Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked his Israeli counterpart in his phone call Monday that Israel facilitate the transfer of COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli officials told me.
Driving the news: On Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister’s office announced that Israel has decided to send a “symbolic quantity” of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority and several countries that have asked for help.
- The prime minister’s office said the Palestinians will receive several thousand doses of vaccines for medical teams.
- A similar number of doses will be administered to several other countries such as Honduras, which sent a plane to collect the vaccines. The vaccines will be taken from a 100,000-dose supply of Moderna that Israel purchased but has not yet used.
Why does it matter: Israel has improved its assistance to Palestinians on COVID-19 in recent weeks after facing criticism in international media.
- Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said in a Zoom speech at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on Monday that Israel has refused to give Palestinians vaccines or even allow them to vaccine shipments from abroad enter the West Bank and Gaza.
- Israel claims that this criticism is false and politically motivated.
The panorama: The Biden government seeks to improve the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza and gradually build trust between Israelis and Palestinians. Biden administration officials believe that the fight against COVID-19 could be the basis for positive cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.
Driving the news: Blinken and Ashkenazi discussed Iran and other regional issues in their phone call, but the secretary of state raised COVID-19 cooperation with the Palestinians as a specific action item.
- Israeli officials told me that Ashkenazi emphasized to Blinken that Israel is the country that has vaccinated the largest number of Palestinians in the world so far, pointing to 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem who receive health services from Israel.
- Ashkenazi told Blinken that Israel has given a few hundred doses of vaccines to Palestinians from its national supply, allowed a shipment of Sputnik V vaccines from Russia to enter the West Bank, and allowed part of this shipment to enter Gaza. Ashkenazi told Blinken that Israel is also considering vaccinating some 75,000 Palestinians working in Israel.
- State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment. In a briefing on Friday, Price said the United States believes “it is important for Palestinians to gain greater access to COVID vaccines in the coming weeks.”
Whats Next: Last Friday, a delegation of senior officials from the Israeli Ministry of Health visited Ramallah to talk with their Palestinian counterparts. One of the issues discussed was Israel giving the Palestinians 100,000 doses of vaccines from its national supply to vaccinate medical teams and people over 60 years of age.